We hear the term “life safety” often in the architectural and engineering world, but what does it mean to everyday people?

Life safety is all about protecting yourself and others through common sense and engineering design. That may seem like a broad subject to discuss, but think of it in terms of survival. Ask yourself this: if you and your family were at the beach and it said “shark infested waters”, would you go in the water? The same approach should be considered for buildings. The common sense part tells you if there is only one way out of a large building, don’t go in it.

Life safety codes and standards are the result of years of tragedy and disaster. Some may call them lessons learned, but historically, changes to how we design, build, and function in a building are the results of major events that have taken many lives. Even today, these types of tragedies occur simply because people aren’t aware of the hazards that exist in their surroundings.

Life safety impacts every type of structure including homes, office buildings, and industrial facilities. There are many aspects to life safety which most people do not understand, and that is the main reason we have codes and standards to provide us with the best and safest design.

Code evaluations are used in the design process to build or refurbish a building. The evaluation determines what the hazards are, what the fire severity risk is, and how to provide a safe environment should a fire occur. Factors that come in to play include:

• Heat and how fast it rises in temperature
• Smoke and how it travels
• Hazards of how fast they react to fire

Below are examples demonstrating how evaluations are applied:

1. A business with 200 employees requires a lot of space. First, the code looks at the classification of occupancy. From there, the size and shape of the building is considered. If the building is a single floor, exits must be provided so people have the choice of at least two directions to travel. The travel distance to an exit is also regulated, and is impacted by the fire severity factor. The higher that factor is, the faster the fire and smoke are assumed to travel. A business with a low severity factor can have travel distance up to 300 feet. In some cases with a high fire severity risk, the required maximum travel distance of 100 feet may require that more exits be installed in the building.

2. An industrial facility may have hazards which restrict the number of occupants and the travel distance. For example, a facility processing flammable liquids may be restricted to a travel distance of 50 feet, and require fire detection and suppression systems to be installed.

Life safety assessments are performed to ensure that the original design features still provide the level of protection designed for that building. Many times, a commercial building will change ownership and with the change, new hazards will be introduced. How will these changes impact life safety? Have new walls gone up that block an exit or extend the travel distance past the allowable limit? Anyone that owns a business should make it a point to assess their property every year. Sometimes the simplest things can have a major impact on life safety.

To make you think more about life safety in your home, here are some questions to consider:

1. How hot can the ceiling temperature in a living room get when a fire occurs?
A. 100° F
B. 600° F
C. 1500° F

2. How much time do you have to escape a house fire?
A. 17 minutes
B. 3 to 4 minutes
C. 30 minutes

3. Where can you safely store a can of gasoline?
A. In your basement
B. In your garage
C. In your he or she shed

4. How do you put of a kitchen stove top pan fire?
A. Throw water on it
B. Put a lid on the pan
C. Carry the pan outside

If you have any questions about life safety or require a life safety code evaluation or assessment, please contact Encorus Group’s Fire Protection Engineer John Allan at (716) 592-3980, ext. 127, or jallan@encorus.com.

The answers to the above questions are: 1. C, 2. B, 3. C, 4. B